Happy Gilmore: Behind The Scenes Of The Bob Barker/Adam Sandler Showdown
In 1996, Bob Barker had hosted The Price is Right for over 20 years. He’d given up his unconvincing hair dye a full decade earlier and the silver-haired institution had established for himself a certain persona as a funny, amiable game show host (an image that even the occasional sex scandal couldn’t tarnish). Even in the 1990s, Bob seemed like a TV presenter from yesteryear and that was part of his charm, which made it all the more surprising when he appeared in the movie Happy Gilmore and kicked Adam Sandler’s ass on the big screen.
The scene took place during a celebrity golf tournament in the movie, where Happy Gilmore — still new to the game — was struggling to land even a single shot. He was paired with Bob Barker in the tournament and Bob grew more and more annoyed with Happy as they fell to last place. After being berated by Bob for hours, Happy finally snapped and socked The Price is Right host square in the face while shouting, “You like that old man!? You want a piece of me!?”
To the surprise of everyone watching — both in the movie and the actual audience — Bob got right back up and said, “I don’t want a piece of you, I want the whole thing.” He then proceeded to punch Happy in the face over and over again. He also knocked him into some water, flipped him over and tumbled with him down a hill. Sandler then head-butted Bob and uttered the greatest line in the film: “The price is wrong, bitch.” But, Barker got up yet again, proceeding to kick Happy’s ass until he was left unconscious.
While Happy Gilmore was filled with lots of hilarious moments — from trashing a clown at a mini-golf course to everything with Carl Weathers and the alligator — the fight with Bob Barker still stands out as the funniest sequence of the film. It’s a scene that director Dennis Dugan remembers fondly to this day. And, here to talk about the biggest fight of 1996 is Dugan, who explains who they originally had in mind for Barker’s role, what moments of the fight were improvised and just how surprisingly spry the 71-year-old Bob Barker was.
How Dennis Dugan Came to Direct Happy Gilmore
I did a movie for the Zucker brothers called Brain Donors. It was my second movie and their first movie that they didn’t direct themselves. During casting, I tried to get Jim Carrey a part in the movie — he was on In Living Color at the time — and they said, “No, he’s a TV guy.” Then I brought Griffin Dunne in and they said “No” to him. Then I brought in Adam Sandler, who wasn’t a star yet. They said “No” to Sandler, but I kept bringing him back because he was so funny. I brought him to them four times until they finally said to me, “Don’t bring him in again!”
A number of years later, I get a call saying, “There’s this movie, they’re shooting in five weeks and they don’t have a director. Go in tomorrow morning at 9:00 and the script is on the way.” So I get the script and sit up all night working on it, making notes. The next morning I go to Universal and knock on the door and it’s Sandler!
By then, Adam was just starting to become a star, he was big on Saturday Night Live and he had done two movies. So, as soon as he opens the door, he points to me and says “You!” and I go “You!” I’m not even through the door yet and he says to the guys in the room, “This guy brought me in four times!” Then he says, “You fought for me, you’ve got this movie.” I never even made it in the door!
That’s Sandler though, he’s just the most loyal guy you could ever meet.
Getting Bob Barker
The Bob Barker scene was in the script when I was hired and originally we’d offered it to Ed McMahon. But, we got back this arrogant response saying “Ed McMahon does not portray himself in motion pictures.” I remember saying at the time, “As opposed to all those great character parts he played where, at the end of the movie, you said ‘That was Ed McMahon?’”
Anyway, Ed McMahon didn’t work out and we were throwing out names, trying to think of someone else. Someone said, “What about Bob Baker?” and everyone said, “Yes! Touchdown!”
He was completely game for it, he got the joke. This was also before a Sandler movie was a thing and people knew what to expect. It was just “a movie,” if that makes sense. But he was totally up for it. Also, he’d studied martial arts as a hobby forever, so, even though he was about 70, he really could kick ass.
Sandler vs. Barker
We shot the whole fight in one day on this golf course in Canada. I remember early in the day it was foggy and raining. In fact, when the golf club flew out of Sandler’s hand, that wasn’t in the script, the club was wet.
When Bob arrived we met briefly. I said “Hi Bob, I’m Dennis,” and then we had to get to work. He and Sandler got along great and Bob couldn’t have been a nicer gentleman. Like I said, he was a martial artist, so he knew how to throw a punch. I remember when he knocked Sandler into the water, it was freezing cold but Sandler said, “Fuck it, I don’t care, throw me in!”
Bob barely even used his stunt double. Maybe a little bit when they were rolling down the hill, but not much more than that. That was another thing improvised on the day, because there happened to be this little hill on the golf course, so I filmed them rolling down it over and over again so it looked like they went 200 yards.
On my movies with Sandler — I’ve done eight of them now — we’re always improvising and throwing out ideas and Bob Barker was ready for anything. We’d throw stuff at him and he just went along with it. At the end of the fight, he gives Sandler a final kick and says, “Now you’ve had enough.” Then he turns around and says “Bitch.” That “Bitch” was a last-minute line from Jack Giarraputo, who’s been Sandler’s producing partner forever. Bob was a complete sport.
I love the fact that that scene, and, really, that movie as a whole, is still so loved today. When it was coming out, nobody expected anything from it and then, of course, it exploded and cemented Sandler as a huge star. I think it also helped show Bob Barker in a new light and show how funny he can be and how game he was for something so different. Years later, when Bob Barker was retiring from The Price is Right, Adam Sandler appeared on his final show — it made me really happy to see that.